Long overdue is our review of the ZEM (which stands for Zone of Endless Motion) Split Toe Lo shoe or what I like to affectionately call the ZEM “ninja shoe”. Keep reading to get the full scoop on these shoes.
The shoe we are reviewing is the ZEM Split Toe Lo. The “Lo” in the name stands for the lower height of the shoe collar (the part that goes around your ankle. In the Lo’s case the collar is below the ankle. As you might imagine there is also a Split Toe Hi where the collar goes above the ankle.
The “Split Toe” in the name stands for how the main big toe on your foot is separated from the rest of the toes while you are wearing it. If your big toe was your thumb than the ZEM Split Toe Lo would truly by the mittens of the barefoot shoe world. The split toe design while visually striking is not just done for looks alone. By design it’s supposed to give a person more balance in sand or uneven surfaces. This might explain why the ninjas of old went with this design (you have to figure they knew what they were doing).
The Split Toe Lo gets points for uniqueness. I mean I’ve seen ninja shoes before but typically they are just one color, but ZEM takes the ninja shoe and kicks it up a notch by adding bright blue stripes over the top of it. The cool thing about those stripes is they are not just for decoration, but also serve as sort of elastic strap that keeps the shoe snug and hugging your foot no matter how you move your feet.
Wearing ZEM’s will get you lots of attention (very much so like how Vibram’s get attention). In my case while running on the street every person that I ran by seem to look first at me then at my feet. ZEM’s also seemed to really catch the attention of the ladies as well. Throughout my time with the Split Toe Lo’s several older ladies have all asked me about the ZEM shoes remarking how they looked so comfortable. I don’t know if ZEM is targeting the older women demographic, but I have gotten a lot of interest from them.
In terms of matching your wardrobe you’ll probably have a difficult time, but if you bought a pair in the first place then that means you probably care more about comfort over looks. After a while these shoes grow on you as well.
The Split Toe Lo uses a Lycra-like material (aka spandex) throughout the shoe. The bottom of the shoe uses a harder type material rubber-like material, though it’s not very thick (as you would expect in a minimal shoe). While this is great for good ground feel through the shoe the one issue that I wasn’t able to test is the durability of the sole. It doesn’t feel as durable as traditional rubber soles so not sure how it will hold up over time.
Out of the box everything is excellently put together (too see what comes out of the box check out the Split Toe Lo Unboxing).
Running in ZEM shoes feels like running in slightly padded socks. What that means is if you are looking for a barefoot running experience without going barefoot then I’d be hard pressed to suggest another shoe. The shoe feels more minimal than even the Vibram FiveFingers Classic.
Like all minimal running shoes it’s best to gradually increase the distance your run in these. I’ve been running sporadically in these and forgot that lesson and ran for 20 minutes in them. The run went ok, but I ended up with blisters on the balls of my feet. I haven’t built up any callouses on my feet. I guess the good thing is that you forget that you are running virtually barefoot!
You might think it gets sweaty running in ZEM shoes, but surprisingly that wasn’t a big problem or something I noticed. Whatever material they use seems to make things pretty breathable.
- Getting into and out of these shoes is really easy. Compared with Vibram FiveFingers these shoes are much easier and faster to to get on. When heading outside often I would grab these shoes first since they are so much easier to get into.
- You might be mistaken for wearing socks outside (someone said that to me)
- Wearing ZEM’s all day your feet will get a little clammy. Not all out sweaty, but a hint of moistedness (if that’s a word)
I like these shoes a lot. In my increasingly growing minimalist shoe closet the ZEM Split To Lo has been my go-to running shoe. I like how I feel when running in these shoes and how they are easy to get on and off. With a retail price starting at $29 there’s really no excuse to give barefoot running a shot because of price. Just be careful you don’t do too much running in them too quickly…otherwise you’ll end up with blisters like I did!